There is Saina Nehwal – the first brand icon of Indian badminton. There is PV Sindhu – the badminton princess who is the best female brand icon in the country. Among the top five – in the company of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan.
Then, there are male badminton stars, who create sporadic sensation with giant killings. Grab headlines with remarkable upsets and title triumphs. But without any market acceptability.
Kidambi Srikanth, arguably the best male badminton star in the country, has just one brand endorsement deal to his kitty in addition to equipment and apparel sponsor Yonex. The only other logo he supports is from his employer Indian Oil. In spite of the fact that his market interests are managed by the same company that cracked path breaking deals to make Sindhu bigger brand name then Bollywood divas.
The week gone by has been among the most happening ever for Indian badminton. HS Prannoy’s upset wins over the undisputed great Lee Chong Wei and the next best talent in action Chen Long were followed by Srikanth’s title triumph with a victory over the current World No. 1 Korean star Son Wan Ho. Srikanth had also done the miracle by taming virtually unbeatable Chinese Lin Dan in 2014. For grand laurels and no commercial gains.
On a day, cricket gave reasons to be ridiculed, Srikanth is on page one of national dailies – regional, too. Will it have some commercial conversions? Experts honest opinion will disappoint the current world No. 22.
“Market will not change at all. This is not just about badminton, but all spots. The community of marketers will not accept any sport with limited eyeballs first at stadiums and then on television. The marketers are cruel and they need to be cruel. They will like a player, they will watch a player but they will not invest on a player unless returns are guaranteed,” says Harish Bijoor, brand and business strategist and founder director at Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “It is not just about badminton. There are bigger icons in chess, billiards but no demand and acceptability in the market.
“Sindhu and Saina have acceptability because their performance has good conversion numbers for commercial market. These two girls pull crowd to the stadiums. They add to TV ratings. Kabaddi is another good example.”
The top 25 on the BWF men’s singles rankings have four Indians, led by veteran Ajay Jairam at No. 13. Srikanth, Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth – each capable of defeating world’s best on their day. They have done it in the past. They will do it again. Coach Pullela Gopichand has as much faith in their marketing ability as he backs their sporting skills.
“Hopefully, this scenario (the commercial aspect) will change. These youngsters could be good brand ambassadors. They have loads of caliber, they carry themselves well and they have been making it to headlines with a consistency,” says India’s chief national badminton coach P Gopichand.
Tuhin Mishra, Director and head of sales and marketing at Baseline Ventures, agrees that Olympic success opens up a big market for non-cricket sports. However, Srikanth’s brand manager is confident that the scenario for the ace shuttler will change soon.
“In India, a lot depends on Olympics success for individual athletes. We as Baseline Ventures managed to get Bank of Baroda as the main sponsor of Kidambi Srikanth in a multi-year deal. This shows their vision and belief in the athlete,” says Mishra.
“Srikanth is a sure shot world champion and a future world No. 1. He is the only Indian player to have won a Premier Super Series, Super Series and GP Gold. We hope that other firms will realise the worth of such a great player.
“Lin Dan, probably the greatest ever badminton player, himself is a big fan of Srikanth. He has once described Srikanth ‘as the most complete badminton player in the men’s circuit ever’.”
Srikanth is off to the Australian Open next, the last event before the World Championships. The Hyderabad badminton star is confident to continue the good showing. A spree of uninterrupted success can make him the talking point for the Indian sports lovers. It is this talking point factor that catapults a sporting star into a brand icon.